Kabbadi, an earthy contact sport that remained obsolete for generations, is now drawing room talk in India.
Every week, hundreds are jamming stadiums to watch players display their awesome lungpower in a league that – surprisingly – is picking decent ratings in a sports channel.
Advertisers are happy to find an alternative medium to splurge cash, even the timing they claim was perfect as Indians, who always wear cricket on their sleeves, were too happy to turn away from the willow game.
Some even tuned to watch the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
At Delhi’s Thyagaraj Stadium that only fills to brim if a Bollywood filmstar plans a night long soiree, exhausted organisers last week were happy to see a packed gallery in as many as six years.
“Kabaddi rocks, it’s like going back to your village for a splash in the river. Everyone loves it,”says Santosh Desai, one of India’s top brand experts.
Desai was confident the new experiment – Pro Kabaddi League – on Star Sports will grow exponentially.
Desai should know.
Sports cognoscenti feel the game will grow because it does not have stars, it is creating heroes, it is creating champions every week.
For centuries, Indians have loved to worship new heroes.
Bollywood actors own teams, so do some corporate captains in the league, planned by Uday Shankar, the CEO of Star India who once earned fame as an earthy reporter.
With a great marketing blitz where he placed kabaddi ads in cricket, F1 and golf shows, the Murdoch channel has taken a game to Bharat, sidelining India.
No wonders the game is now doing wonders to many, especially the players who once played to empty stadiums and took home gifts ranging from wheat bags to sacks of puffed rice.
They were lucky to receive cash awards, no one recognising them in the streets.
They were often mistaken aspehelwans, the Indian term for wrestlers.
But now, kabbadi is trendy, hip hop, it is filling up Facebook posts and trending high on twitter handles across Asia.
“Call us brother, we are ready,”said Usman Ghaji from Lahore to his twitter friends from India.
Indian rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh calls it Bun Maska, Mumbai’s staple, tasty breakfast.
Rahul Chaudhary, a player from Telugu Titans, loves every moment of his flipped life. Just four matches old, he has already signed more than 4000 autographs, mostly from girls who always preferred cricketers.
“I am a part of India’s conversation, I feel proud,”Chaudhary told Tadpoles in an interview.
He is a 23-year old from Bijnor district in Uttar Pradesh, almost 12 years into the game that gave him nothing except 10 gold water coloured medals in junior and senior national championships.
But the world has changed.
Now he is to kabaddi what Virat Kohli is to Indian cricket. And cricket fans.
Once his family was worried about his future, now they know their son is a star.
The game has made one more discerning difference in Chaudhary’s life. Many want him to marry their daughters.
“Rishte zyada ane lage hai,”laughs Chaudhary that translates into“More marriage proposals are coming.”
He is happy, so are his fans. So is Bharat, India’s backyard has finally found a game to beat cricket as a sports career.
Their hopeshave found a voice.